The Hunger Games finally comes out today, but already the movie's been analyzed from every angle: its potentially huge box-office numbers, why Katniss Everdeen is a female role model, whether or not it's the new Twilight, and, perhaps most importantly, whether or not Lenny Kravitz's stylist character Cinna is gay.
But one thing that hasn't been talked about enough is how this teen-killing mainstream entertainment depicts its bleak post-apocalyptic world. Like a lot of books and films before it, The Hunger Games has to imagine what a dark future world will be like. And while watching the movie, I thought about how the future is always presented so ... stupidly. Listen, I'm not saying The Hunger Games is wrong about what The Future will be like—I haven't arrived in the future yet—but it is funny how the film (based on Suzanne Collins's novel) basically imagines The Future in all the ways we're used to seeing it. And all those ways are really silly.
1. In The Future, bad guys will be easy to spot because of their bad hair
Anybody who's looked at his parents' wedding photos knows that hairstyles come and go—and that lots of them are terrible—but future-set movies seem pretty confident that while technology will continue to make our lives easier, our hairdos are gonna be really awful. Well, if you're the hero in the movie, your hair will be fine—unless you're Charlize Theron in Aeon Flux, which doesn't count because it's terrible—but if you're a villain, hoo boy, you're gonna be sportin' a ridiculous look. In The Hunger Games, Donald Sutherland's evil President Snow luckily gets off relatively scot-free, but Effie Trinket, Seneca Crane, and Caesar Flickerman all have hilariously dumb 'dos. At some point in The Future, baddies decided that the best way to distinguish themselves from other people is by advertising their villainy on top of their heads. Wesley Snipes, I apologize now for laughing at your goofy yellow mohawk thingy back in Demolition Man: If only I'd known.
2. In The Future, everybody has clothes designed by people who hate them
This is sort of like the hair thing, but different. Apparently, at some point in The Future, people decided that although they liked traditional outfits, they wanted to jazz things up too. Unfortunately in a movie like The Hunger Games, this usually means characters wear lots of stuff with glitter on them. Or things are skintight. Or stuff doesn't have zippers or buttons. (As film critic Matt Singer pointed out, "I like how in the world of THE HUNGER GAMES everyone dresses really weird, except Lenny Kravitz, who dresses like Lenny Kravitz.") It appears that in The Future we're gonna spend a lot of time wearing the equivalent of close-fitting Snuggies ... with sparkles on it. Call it "The Fifth Element Rule." (Note: This applies only to futuristic films in which society has devolved into hedonistic chaos. If per chance your future society has become a totalitarian, dehumanized hellhole, then everybody wears prim-and-proper outfits because we've lost the ability to feel, man.)
3. In The Future, someone's taken Ridley Scott's Apple Super Bowl commercial to heart
Arguably the most famous commercial of the last 30 years, director Ridley Scott's "1984" Super Bowl spot introduced the world to Apple's Macintosh computer. Of course, it was inspired by George Orwell's 1984, but Scott's visual aesthetic can still be seen in gloomy near-future films like The Hunger Games that always have to contain a scene in which the huddled, colorless masses are subservient to a big monitor above them barking orders. I'm no futurist, but doesn't it make more sense to think that in The Future we're each gonna have individual eye-screens from which a cruel overlord tells us what to do? Nope, in The Future, Big Brother will still prefer treating its citizens like they're at one tedious high school assembly.
4. In The Future, the cops are scary
The Hunger Games suggests that, in The Future, law enforcement officers will dress like riot cops. Clearly, this is supposed to make them scary in a faceless, bureaucratic way, and it's a style we've become accustomed to since THX 1138. But unlike George Lucas's 41-year-old movie, too many recent sci-fi films seem to think our police force is still gonna be staffed with humans. That can't be right, can it? In these super-high-tech futures where everything else is handled by machines, we're really gonna let people handle that sort of unpleasant stuff for us?
5. The Future will feature everything you hate about the present—but it'll be worse
Sci-fi films will sometimes throw the audience a comforting bone—Look, we've cured cancer!—but the downside is that a dark future world almost always exaggerates something you can't stand right now. For instance, Minority Report lets us know how ubiquitous ads become. (By the way, it's scary how close that's getting to being reality.) And in The Hunger Games, the target is reality television. And so we get Stanley Tucci's Caesar Flickerman, who's part Regis Philbin, part Ryan Seacrest, which is to say he's basically Liberace. Inevitably, this also means that society is mostly a bunch of thoughtless, obnoxious morons who love all this base entertainment. Oh my god! Don't you see! Their version of American Idol is teens killing each other! That's where we're heading! The problem with The Hunger Games is that it's so ridiculously serious about its satire that it's not really compelling. Give me Idiocracy any day, which at least understood that the proposition of the world's metastasizing stupidity was, when you think about it, almost frighteningly funny.
6. In The Future, despite our technological achievements, being true to our nature is most important
The Hunger Games is set largely at the Capitol, which is bustling with cool gadgets and impressive technology, but like lots of futuristic movies—which spend tons on top-of-the-line effects—we're meant to understand that, really, those tools can't compare with the elemental nature of existence. No, Katniss is our hero in part because she's from Panem's poorest district, where everybody lives like Appalachian mountainfolk. But her heart is pure! She isn't suckered in by technological advancement! Hell, she uses a bow and arrow! This has been a familiar trope since H.G. Wells suggested that simple germs could defeat all-powerful invading Martians, or Luke Skywalker turned off his tracking computer to destroy the Death Star by relying on the Force. So, good news, present-day people: The Future will have lots of cool things, but they won't make you happy. As usual, Louis CK got there first.
7. In The Future, we're still gonna have dopey love stories
One of the major things to look forward to in the sequels to The Hunger Games will be the developing romantic triangle between Katniss and Teen Boy Who Was In The Kids Are All Right and Dude Whose Brother Is Thor. You would expect that a dystopian future wouldn't allow for much romance. Well, you should shut up, because you're totally wrong. The Future is all about finding love as a balm from the general terribleness of everything else around you. Blade Runner, Fahrenheit 451, Strange Days, the Star Wars movies, The Matrix ... it's not enough to take down the evil society; you'd better get laid, too.